Review: Assassin’s Creed

AssassinsCreed.jpgHaving built up so much hype prior to its debut, Assassin’s Creed amassed lofty expectations that were always going to be difficult, if not near-impossible to live up to no matter the quality of the end product. And in a lot of ways, that has played out to be true now that the game has been completed and has found its way into the hands of well over two million gamers worldwide already. By some strange twist of fate, Assassin’s Creed is both a slight disappointment and an award-worthy epic. There’s really no debate about it. Assassin’s Creed is filled with its fair share of alarming design flaws and technical shortcomings that are easy to nitpick at and feel let down by. But some how some way, the game manages to fend off its faults and deliver a truly unforgettable tale you simply must experience.

Above all else, Assassin’s Creed is a very story-driven affair, and thankfully the story is one of its best components, featuring an ambitious script and strong character performances (although a mildly confusing climax that blatantly paves the way for a sequel may rub some players the wrong way). The storyline here is actually a dual-plot of sorts that weaves together two eras and two characters. The focal point of the story, even though you only control him during short, intermission-like segments that only serve to push the narrative forward, is a character named Desmond, a modern-day (well, more near-future actually) bartender who has been kidnapped by some mysterious group of researches and forced to use a device called the Animus. When inside the Animus, memories stored within Desmond’s genetic code become unlocked, enabling him to relive said memories as if they were his own.

So why was Desmond chosen for this project, you ask? Well apparently, his ancestor Altaïr was an elite member of an assassin’s brotherhood from Crusades-era Palestine and Desmond’s captors are desperately searching for vital information that will only be retrieved by reproducing Altaïr’s memories and replaying the events stored within.

When inside the Animus (which is most of the game), you take control of Altaïr through a series of memories that follow his appointed task to assassinate nine important figures he’s told stand in the way of bringing peace to the Holy Land. As Altaïr, you stalk the crowded streets of three major cities — Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus – on the hunt for the assigned assassination target. These cities (and the other locales you frequent in between) are thoughtfully laid out to provide you virtually unlimited options when it comes to navigation and achieving the objectives that have been set forth, and are magnificently designed both in graphics and audio with some of the most detailed and organic level geometry and lighting you’ll find in a game and immersive ambiance that is second to none (the musical score and voice acting are strong too).

Overall, the game feels very much like an open-world evolution of the Prince of Persia style of gameplay. Visceral, skill-based swordplay, acrobatic platforming, satisfying stealth kills… it’s all here and it’s all a ton of fun. The free-running/climbing mechanics are the game’s purest joy – virtually every piece of level geometry can be climbed or interacted with in effortless fashion. At the simple hold of a button and tilt of the analog stick, Altaïr can sprint, hop over small objects, run up walls, scale buildings, swing from posts and railings, and leap from rooftop to rooftop all in one seamless string of actions without any additional button presses. Altaïr’s movements and animations are so astonishingly smooth and natural, you truly feel in command of his every move.

Though reviewer opinion of the combat has been mixed, I’ve found the swordplay mechanics to be quite superb as well. Engaging enemies in combat doesn’t involve the button-mashing that’s become typical of most third-person action games these days. On the contrary, swordplay in Assassin’s Creed has a realistic, think-and-react style to it that is more dependant on counter attacking and quick-striking one-two combos than headstrong offensive tactics. Early on you can get away with simply slashing away, but as the difficulty ramps up and enemies become better equipped, constantly being on the offensive only leaves you open to flanking attacks and inevitable death.

What makes the combat truly shine is its graphic nature and diversity of animations. Depending on the equipped weapon (for melee combat you’ve got a sword, dagger and your fists), there is such a wide range of different counter attack and combo quick-kill animations that dispatching foes never gets dull or repetitive. In fact, I often found myself looking for battle just to see more of the kill sequences, especially given how satisfyingly vicious they are in action. Altaïr doesn’t mess around, let me tell you.

Surprisingly, Assassin’s Creed stumbles in the area — at least according to the hype –where it should’ve been at its best: the stealth. Frankly, though, the stealth elements are rudimentary at best. Like the whole “social stealth” feature that’s been emphasized since the game was first announced; it actually turns out feeling contrived and half-baked. Altaïr is clearly decked out in the garb of an assassin and looks nothing but menacing, but by simply walking slow through crowds or joining a group of scholars (which activates a noticeably awkward walking sequence) he instantly becomes seemingly invisible to aggressive onlookers. It’s also incredibly silly how you can leap from atop a building into a pile of hay, clearly in sight of guards and bypassing citizens mind you, without a single one of them seeing or reacting to you. Though subtle, these types of inconsistencies become distracting enough to prevent you from fully immersing into the game world.

Another glaring chink in Assassin’s Creed armor is its ultra-repetitive mission designs. While the main assassination missions lead to some of the most memorable moments in recent gaming history, the intelligence-gathering objectives that lead up to the assassinations become downright tedious. Every city you go to, the same selection of uninteresting interrogation, pickpocketing and eavesdropping missions must be completed in preparation for the assassination attempt. They aren’t challenging in the least and really just seem tacked on to extend the life of the game. Remember the barren mission structure of Spider-Man 2? It’s exactly the same flaw.

Unfortunately, the game is kinda buggy too. Not in a game-breaking way, thankfully, but definitely enough to cause some headaches. Upon release, the main bug that caused so many problems was a nasty glitch that would occasionally cause the game to freeze up. For the first few weeks, literally every time I played the game it would freeze the first time, then work fine after a quick reset. This glitch received a lot more attention for being a PS3 thing, but the 360 version had its share of lock-ups too. Thankfully, Ubisoft delivered a patch late last year that remedied the situation, and I haven’t had a single crash since. That said, quirks like an unsteady framerate, clipping and the occasionally glitchy AI still linger, indicating that the push to get the game out for the ’07 holiday season caused the game as a whole to lack that final coat of technical polish.

When all is said and done, though, Assassin’s Creed is one of those games that is just so immersive and cool to play that it becomes easy to look past the glaring weaknesses that it has. As much as I am disappointed by the stealth inconsistencies, recycled side missions and somewhat rough-around-the-edges performance, I have been blown away by the story, presentation, swordplay, level designs, and free-running so much that the aforementioned shortcomings feel more like minor casualties than fatal blows to the game’s greatness. Overall, Assassin’s Creed is an enthralling experience right up there with the best this generation has to offer. A must-have for all PS3 and 360 owners.

BuyIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Gratifying swordplay
+ Phenomenal production values and incredible ambiance
+ Compelling storyline
+ Free-running mechanics are absolutely brilliant

Cons:
– Shallow, recycled mission structure
– Sketchy AI
– Unpolished technical performance

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!